The Sensible Jew: Occupying the Territory between the Beth Din and Antony Loewenstein since 2009

We, at the Sensible Jew, are Australian Jews who are tired of bitching at family dinners about unrepresentative swill (ie.communal leaders) and Leowensteinian lunatic leftists.

Where are the moderates?

Well, that’s the problem: moderates are just less motivated than their radical brothers and sisters to go media whoring. It might be nice, though if the sensible types had a blog to read, and a place to discuss matters affecting Aussie Jews. So feel free to comment, whether you agree with us or not.

We ask you to comment in the blog’s comment section rather than emailing us directly. We will not respond to emails regarding blog content.

We will delete all spam, flaming and trolling.

P.S. Please don’t ask us our names. We simply will not answer questions to that end. We maintain our right to anonymity because our profiles within the community might prejudice responses. Simply because of who we are, people might erroneously assume they know exactly what we’re about before they even give this blog a read. So forget about who we are and concentrate on what we have to say!

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14 Responses to “The Sensible Jew: Occupying the Territory between the Beth Din and Antony Loewenstein since 2009”

  1. pauly says:

    Too true. Onya mate

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  2. pauly says:

    Who are you guys? I’ll buy you a coffee! :)

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  3. Yoram says:

    This looks like a great project. Although no one has ever accused me of being sensible I think it is a fine endeavour never-the-less.

    So perhaps to get the ball rolling, where is the line between the “swill” and the “lunatic leftists”? As regards Antony Lowenstein, he publishes material highly critical of the Israeli government. Are you implying that there is no place for criticism within the discourse?

    And as for the unrepresentive swill, well, I am hardly a fan of the Beit Din (although to be fair I don’t really know any of its Rabbis personally), yet what is the alternative? The community needs some kind of governance and more often than not the individuals running the various organisations were the ones with their hands up, willing to put in the time to do either low-paying or no-paying jobs.

    Moreover, even though the authors of this site obviously harbour strong feelings about their subject matter, does it help to call people swill or lunatics. There are genuine enemies of the Jewish people in the world, ones who not only write vitriol but are quite willing to kill for their vitriol too. Surely the voice of the sensible should be to help all stakeholders within the community find a common ground upon which to speak, which addresses genuine concerns yet does not resort to name calling?

    That, at least in my opinion, would be the real voice of the sensible.

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  4. sensiblejew says:

    Yoram, thanks! As for alternatives to our leadership, that’s what I hope the comments on this blog will discuss. Can democratic processes be brought to our communal institutions to make them more representative?

    As for the salty language, well, we want this blog to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “Unrepresentative swill,” is a glorious term Keating used to describe the Senate. And we chose, “lunatic” to describe certain leftists because it seems pretty spot on when it comes to folk who rabbit on about the peace and light that will come if only Israel were abolished as a Jewish state.

    It’s really not about name calling: it’s about passion.

    Just because we’re moderate in our political views, it doesn’t mean that we have to tread softly-softly when we critisise hypocritical or dishonest behaviour.

    Some things are egregious enough that only strong words are appropriate.

    But it’s great to hear from you and we hope you’ll keep coming back.

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  5. sensiblejew says:

    Yoram, that’s a brilliant post. Thank you.

    As for the whole taxation/representation issue – it’s a lot more complex than that. Power – or shall we call it legitimacy – is not only predicated on an economic base at all. That’s why the modern liberal democracy evolved from the original democratic system of franchise limited to property owners (and white men)to the universal franchise we enjoy today, regardless of our wealth.

    Regarding the Jewish community, we have a plethora of spokesmen (almost all of them are men) who do not derive legitimacy from any source. Often these spokesmen are also the men who are in charge of organisations to which the federal, state, and local governments disburse money – taxpayers’ money. There are so many Jewish services from education to welfare to cultural organisations that may receive money from private donors but also enjoy government subsidies.

    But even if money were not at issue, that these spokesmen speak for all of us whenever a news story concerning Jewry breaks, is extremely worrying, both because many of them are unaware of basic PR and because they are not necessarily representative of the community. We believe that these men may actually be harming our community.

    It is this absence of legitimacy that concerns us. We’re going to write more about it in the future.

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  6. sensiblejew says:

    Yoram, you’ve been asking great questions, and we’ve just created a new post to address them.

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  7. [...] Posted by sensiblejew on May 13, 2009 At The Sensible Jew, we’ve decided to include the odd post that responds to comments from readers that are particularly insightful, in the hope of stimulating further discussion on a particular topic. Reader, Yoram, has asked a few really good questions in the comments section of the post here. [...]

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Your sub-title “Occupying the territory between the Beth Din etc.” entirely misses the point of the thrust of what this blog is all about.

    The Beth Din is the small group of Orthodox rabbis who make decisions about kashrut certification, conversion, divorce: religious matters that are generally unrelated to the issues of representative governance of the community.

    Since you seem to have an issue with organisations such as the JCCV and the ZCV, then be honest and say so without using misleading headlines.

    Calling these organisations “unrepresentative swill” — Keating’s headline-grabbing phrase for the Senate — certainly makes people sit up and take notice. Insults generally result in people paying attention.

    Is the term a fair comment on these two peak body organisations? Personally, I don’t think so. True, not every Jewish organisation is represented (some because they have chosen not to be). But they do represent a wide range of political and religious opinion.

    ZCV, for example, has representatives from Zionist organisations that cover the political spectrum from left to right. The critics who imply that the community is controlled by an unrepresentative little group are way off beam.

    JCCV, likewise, has delegates from Orthodox and Progressive organisations, welfare groups, various political groups, sporting clubs, ex-service people. Its plenary meetings are open and members of the community who wish to put a critical point of view are free to do so.

    Could the community’s public relations operations be improved? Undoubtedly. It’s mostly, IMHO, a matter of insufficient funding and therefore insufficient professional resources.


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  9. Plug says:

    Sorry, a typo in my last post. I meant ‘no control’. The para should read

    The word ‘political’ embraces many ideas. There is religious politics, the way in which organisations control, or attempt to control, individuals’ religious beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. The Beth Din could be seen to do this, but it has no control over the majority of Melbourne’s Jews who are only nominally Orthodox, or Progressive, or non-religious.


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  10. Plug says:

    You haven’t really answered my point at all.

    The word ‘political’ embraces many ideas. There is religious politics, the way in which organisations control, or attempt to control, individuals’ religious beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. The Beth Din could be seen to do this, but it has control over the majority of Melbourne’s Jews who are only nominally Orthodox, or Progressive, or non-religious.

    There is communal politics, where people try to control what the community does. The Beth Din is not a member organisation of the JCCV or the ZCV. Both of these peak bodies observe kashrut according to Orthodox standards and avoid holding events on Orthodox Holy Days, but I see this as more the result of a desire by the peak bodies to be inclusive, rather than the result of any political power exerted by the Beth Din.

    There is Israeli politics, which comes out in Melbourne in the form of support for Israel, p.r. efforts, fund-raising etc, which is of course central to the ZCV’s mission (and is supported by the JCCV). But what on earth has the the Beth Din to do with this. Do you have any evidence of public statements made by the Beth Din on such matters? Do you think the Beth Din contacts the JCCV and the ZCV and presses their leaders to take a particular political position vis-a-vis Israel?

    So, let me repeat my question. Please tell me, why do you place the Beth Din at the opposite pole to Anthony Loewenstein in your sub-heading?

    You may think from all this that I’m a spokesman for the Beth Din. I’m not. I would even agree with you that some of their positions on religious issues are certainbly open to vigorous debate.

    But if you are going to be a “Sensible Jew” — an wholly desireable idea, in my view — then let’s try to keep the arguments clear and logical, and based on evidence.

    And, by the way, referring to people who voluntarily spend hours of their spare time for the benefit of the community as “unrepresentative swill” (swill being food fed to pigs) is lashan hara (bad speech), not the mark of a sensible Jew at all.


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  11. Yoram says:

    Good points.

    I was unaware that “unrepresentative swill” was a Keating-ism. So upon further reflection, a nice choice of phrase, if the politics of confrontation is your thing.

    So I guess the real question then is, how do you make leadership more representative?

    Well I won’t pretend to have an answer, but I have a few observations to make. Power is always accountable to the source of its own power. In most cases, the source of power is economic. So in theory, the government of a democracy is accountable to the people because their tax dollars finance the governments activities. In practice though, we know this is not necessarily the case, because although the activities of government are funded through taxation, political parties who run the government are funded by sectional interests.

    Furthermore, the taxation base is not evenly spread. Governments earn more money from taxing corporations than they do from taxing low-income or no-income individuals.

    Now lets look at the Jewish community. We have institutions, even some that we might call governing institutions, but their funding does not derive from a communal tax. Funding for most Jewish endeavours derives from large donations from a minority of individuals. Given that this is the case, power within the community will, for better or worse, always be skewed towards a certain direction.

    The next question or observation I would make is on the nature of governance. What, exactly, is the role of governance within the Jewish community? The Local councils take care of rubbish collections and roads, the State government administers the Police and the Hospitals and Federal Government runs the Army and the taxation system and so on. So what exactly do we want or expect from the governance of the Jewish community?

    I believe that a clear articulation of an answer to that question will allow us to properly assess the effectiveness of the current governance model and then begin pointing us in the direction of how to then make that governance more accountable.

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  12. Yoram says:

    OK, this is great. We now have at least one functionality of governance – representation of the community to the wider world.

    You have also brought up another great distinction (or chakirah in Talmud-speak)between power on the one hand, and legitimacy on the other.

    So I can see now two positive directions;

    1. To keep adding to the list of the functionalities of governance. Representation to the wider world, ie Foreign Affairs, is a great start, but I think we need more of them.

    2. To start working on a definition of legitimacy; what gives someone or some organisation legitimacy and what does not.

    Looking forward to your next post.

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  13. sensiblejew says:

    Hi, Plug. We’ve dealt with the essence of your question elsewhere in the comments sections. Very briefly, the Beth Din occupies an extreme position on the political spectrum. It is non-transparent, discriminates against women and homosexuals, sees no room for theological diversity, and operates as a closed shop. If you’d like an explanation of our issues with the JCCV and other organisations, you are welcome to read the many posts on this blog that deal with exactly that.

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  14. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Plug.

    Unless two Jews marry in a Reform or secular ceremony, their marriage will be subject to the rules enforeced by the Beth Din. Many other issues such as death, Kashrut, and conversion are under their purview. One can always abandon orthodoxy. But for those who do not wish to, the closed shop of the Beth Din, with its exclusivist, non-transparent tendencies, and the inability of women to partcipate in any meaningful way at all (even to bear witness in a religious court) is very much at the opposite end of a spectrum from Loewenstein’s certainties regarding atheism. But as we’ve said to you before, please read the posts and comments because we have previously dealt with this issue.

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